Visual SEO: The Power of Images in Search Engine Optimization
Many online marketers and web designers still forget to use images to rank higher in Google and other search engines. While textual content is often the focus of search engine optimization, well-optimized images can significantly contribute to a website’s visibility.
Not only are they essential to a user-friendly website, due to their ability to convey information quickly and provide aesthetically pleasing breaks in long blocks of text, but they also play a crucial role in SEO.
Images that are properly tagged with relevant ALT texts and descriptive filenames can help improve rankings in both traditional search results and Google Images.
Table of Contents
The importance of images for a user-friendly website
Images are an essential element of any website. They not only attract the visitor’s attention but also make the content visually attractive and understandable.
A well-chosen image can provide an instant understanding of the accompanying textual content and can be used to simplify complex information.
Furthermore, images can help to improve the structure of the website by breaking up the text and increasing readability, but that is not necessary as you see on this site.
How Images Can Also Impact SEO
Images also play an important role in search engine optimization (SEO). Well-optimized images can increase a website’s visibility in search results. This is because search engines like Google index not only text but also the images on a web page.
Images that are properly tagged with relevant and descriptive ALT text can help rank in search results, especially in image search.
In addition, images can affect a website’s loading time, which is a ranking factor for search engines. A faster-loading website offers a better user experience and is therefore often placed higher in the search results. So it is important to optimize the size and format of images to improve speed and performance.
1. Choose the Correct File Format
Choosing the right image file format is crucial for both image quality and website performance. Here’s an overview of the most common file formats and when you should use them:
PNG (Portable Network Graphics)
- This format is ideal for images that require transparency, such as logos and graphic designs.
- PNG supports lossless compression, which means the quality is retained after saving and compressing.
- It is suitable for images with text, sharp edges and that require high image quality.
- The downside is that PNG files can be larger, which can affect your page load time.
JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
- JPEG is the most commonly used photo format on the web.
- It supports lossy compression, allowing you to adjust the balance between file size and quality.
- It’s best for photos and realistic images where file size is more important than the smallest details.
- WebP is a modern format developed by Google, which supports both lossless and lossy compression.
- It offers significantly better compression than PNG and JPEG, resulting in smaller file sizes at comparable or higher quality.
- WebP is supported by most modern browsers and is a good choice for all types of images on the web.
AVIF (AV1 Image File Format)
- AVIF is a relatively new image format that offers superior compression and is based on the AV1 video codec.
- It provides better compression than WebP and is especially effective for high-resolution images.
- Being a newer technology, AVIF is not supported by all browsers, but it is quickly being adopted due to its efficiency.
When choosing a format, consider compatibility, the quality of the image you need, and the file size. Ideally, you’ll use a mix of sizes based on the unique needs of each image to find an optimal balance between loading speed and visual quality.
2. Compress Images
Compressing images is essential for reducing web page load times without reducing the quality of the images. There are several techniques and tools available that can help achieve this balance:
- Online compression tools: There are plenty of online services such as TinyPNG, Compressor.io, and Kraken.io that make it easy to compress images. These tools analyze your images and reduce file size by removing pixels that are not necessary for the quality you want.
- Photoshop: Professional software such as Adobe Photoshop has built-in features to optimize images for the web. With the ‘Save for Web’ function you can adjust the quality and immediately see the effect on the file size.
- Tools for compression with minimal quality loss: Tools like ImageOptim (for Mac) and FileOptimizer (for Windows) offer lossless compression, meaning the image quality is fully preserved while the file size is reduced.
Automation of the compression process using plugins or APIs
For websites that regularly process large numbers of images, automating the compression process is an efficient solution:
- WordPress-plugins: If you use a CMS like WordPress, there are plugins like Smush, EWWW Image Optimizer in ShortPixel which automatically compress new images uploaded to the site.
- Image optimization APIs: APIs like TinyPNG’s Developer API, and Cloudinary provide automated solutions that can be integrated into your development workflow. These APIs can be set up to compress images as they are uploaded to your server or even in real time when requested by a user.
Using these tools and techniques can have a significant impact on your website’s performance and improve your users’ experience. By automating the compression process, you can consistently deliver optimized images without taking up any additional time from your web developers or content creators.
3. Responsive Images
In an age where users access content via a range of devices with different screen resolutions, it’s essential that images on your website are responsive. This means they have to adapt to different screen sizes and resolutions without sacrificing loading speed or visual quality.
- srcset attribute: The ‘srcset’ attribute in HTML allows you to specify different image files for different screen resolutions. The browser can then load the most appropriate image based on the device’s screen.
- sizes attribute: The ‘sizes’ attribute gives the browser information about how large an image appears in different conditions, allowing the browser to decide which version of an image to load.
The importance of a mobile-first approach to displaying images
With a mobile-first approach, you start by designing for the smallest screens and adapt your design and images for larger screens via media queries. This ensures that the user experience is optimized for mobile devices, which often have slower internet connections and less computing power.
- Optimization for mobile: Serving smaller images for mobile devices can significantly reduce page load time, which is essential given the significant amount of traffic coming from mobile devices.
- Progressive improvement: This is a strategy where you start with a basic level of user accessibility and functionality (good for mobile), and expand with additional layers that improve the experience on devices with larger screens and better connections.
By applying responsive image techniques, you ensure that your website loads quickly and effectively, regardless of the device used, and improve both user experience and SEO performance.
4. Lazy Loading
One of the techniques to ensure that your website loads quickly is ‘lazy loading’. This is an optimization strategy that improves page load time by loading images and other media only when they are needed.
The impact of lazy loading on page loading speed
Lazy loading has a significant impact on page loading speed, especially for sites with lots of images and multimedia content. Instead of loading all elements at once when a user visits a page, only the items that fall into the viewport are loaded; other elements load as the user scrolls down. This reduces the initial page load time, reduces data consumption, and improves the user experience.
- Met HTML: Recently, lazy loading has become a lot easier with the introduction of the loading attribute in HTML. You can simply add loading=”lazy” to an <img> tag to have the browser automatically handle the lazy loading functionality.
Code: <img src=”image.jpg” loading=”lazy” alt=”Image description”>
Implementing lazy loading allows a website to become more responsive, contributing to both improved user satisfaction and SEO rankings.
5. Image CDNs
A CDN improves load times by caching static content, such as images, on multiple servers around the world. When a user visits a website, the content is served from the server closest to the user’s geographic location. This reduces the distance data has to travel, reduces latency, and makes loading times faster.
Examples of popular CDNs you can use
- Cloudflare: Offers a comprehensive free plan with worldwide coverage, making it a popular choice for small to medium-sized websites.
- Amazon CloudFront: Integrated with AWS services, it offers powerful and flexible options for businesses of all sizes.
- Smart: One of the oldest and most renowned CDN providers, suitable for large enterprises with high security and performance demands.
- Fastly: A real-time CDN that focuses on speed and provides the ability to purge and update content instantly.
Using a CDN is especially beneficial for websites with a large international audience. By reducing the load on the main server and increasing redundancy, a CDN can also improve the reliability of a website. In short, a CDN is an essential tool for any website that strives for a fast, reliable, and globally accessible user experience.
Accessibility and search engine optimization (SEO) go hand in hand when creating an inclusive and discoverable website. By making content accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, we not only improve the user experience but also strengthen the SEO value of a website.
6. Image Caching
Image caching is a technique that should not be underestimated. Caching allows browsers to store images locally, which significantly reduces load times on subsequent visits. This not only has a positive effect on the user experience but can also improve the SEO performance of a website.
Setting cache headers to instruct browsers to save images
Cache headers are a part of HTTP responses that tell browsers how long to keep certain content, such as images, in the cache. By the use ofCache-Control headers you can indicate how long images should be cached. This means that returning visitors can load your page faster because images are already stored in their local cache.
The balance between caching and keeping your content up to date
While caching can improve loading speed, it also poses the challenge of ensuring users see the most current version of your content. If you regularly update your images, you want to prevent users from loading outdated versions from their cache.
This can be managed by carefully tuning the cache header settings or by using versioning in the image filenames so that a new version of an image is recognized as an entirely new file by the browser.
Smartly setting cache parameters is therefore essential to both improve the speed of your website and keep the content fresh and up to date.
7. The importance of ALT texts
ALT texts are descriptive text added to the HTML code of an image. For SEO purposes, well-worded ALT text helps search engines understand the content of the image, which contributes to the page’s relevance for certain search terms.
However, ALT texts are even more important for accessibility. They make images accessible to visually impaired users who rely on screen readers to understand the content of a web page. When an image fails to load, the ALT text is shown, still giving the user an understanding of what was intended by the image.
The importance of descriptive file names
An often overlooked aspect of image optimization is the file name. Like ALT texts, descriptive filenames can improve both SEO and accessibility. A clear, descriptive file name gives search engines contextual clues about the contents of an image.
For users exploring the website through a command-line interface or in a non-graphical browser, the file name can help understand content that would otherwise be interpreted visually. Consistently using descriptive filenames and ALT texts will make your content more accessible and improve your website’s overall SEO performance.
8. Structured Data and Images
Schema markup is code you add to your website to help search engines better understand what the content represents. This can also be useful for images. By adding schema markup, you can link specific images to articles, products, or other content on your site.
This helps search engines like Google to show a relevant image in search results such as Google’s rich snippets or carousels. For example, if you have a product page, schema.org markup allows you to indicate which image represents the product, adding to the product information shown in search results.
How structured data can improve visibility in search results
By using structured data, you can increase the chance that your images will appear in improved search results, such as the rich snippets mentioned earlier. These are comprehensive search results with images, prices, availability, and other useful information that can lead to a higher click-through rate (CTR).
Additionally, images marked with structured data can appear in other Google services, such as Google Images and Google Shopping, further increasing the visibility of your content. Correctly using structured data can therefore have a significant impact on how visible and attractive your content is in the search results.